Just when we thought travel was back on track – costly testing no longer required for most places and cumbersome passenger locator forms dropped – new challenges hit us.
With Easter looming and overseas holiday sales almost back to pre-Covid levels, airlines and airports are struggling to cope.
Blame has been placed on staff shortages, with UK Covid cases hitting a record high (one in 13 people is infected). The result? Last minute flight cancellations, long check-in lines and Argie-Bargie at security. Suddenly, traveling seems like a tricky business. But you can avoid much of the chaos this Easter. Here is our conclusion.
Travelers could face last-minute flight cancellations, long check-in lines and Argie-Bargie at security in the coming weeks
Check your flight
There’s no point in going to the airport only to find that your flight has been cancelled. Airlines should email you about changes, but keep a close eye on your booking even after you’ve checked in and printed your boarding pass.
Some airports have introduced queue tracking systems. Edinburgh has a live security queue time tracker (edinburghairport.com). Gatwick’s app offers similar updates. Also check social media like Facebook and Twitter to see if people are complaining about long queues.
Arrive at the airport three hours before departure. If security isn’t as bad as expected, a good book or a meal at a restaurant will help pass the time.
Do not be shy
Arrive at the airport three hours before departure in case of long queues. Above are travelers queuing at Manchester Airport earlier this month
If you’re stuck at security and likely to miss your flight, let the staff know and ask if you can go forward. If you miss it, you’ll fight to get a refund.
Talk to your insurer
Some travel policies may cover missed flights caused by airport delays, but most do not. They will say that you should have enough time to catch your plane. This is a gray area. Call your insurer to check.
Consider an upgrade
Priority boarding programs can seem pointless, especially when you end up catching a bus with everyone else to catch the plane. However, upgrading means you can skip long security queues.
Get in the fast lane
Fast Track programs for faster travel through security are available at some airports. Manchester’s is only £4 (manchesterairport.co.uk). Gatwick is launching Premium Gatwick Security from 14 April, priced online from £5 (gatwickairport.com). But beware: The consumer magazine What? says fast track isn’t always faster.
Hand luggage only
If you want to avoid queues at the baggage claim, you should only take hand luggage with you
This may sound drastic, but when baggage check queues are chaotic, why not avoid them by only taking carry-on baggage with you? Make sure you know your airline’s size/weight allowance rules.
Baggage drop off the night before
Some airlines/airports offer bag drop the night before travel. For example, Jet2 allows bag drop from 3pm to 8pm the night before in Manchester and Birmingham. And BA has a bag drop from 6pm to 9pm at Heathrow T5 for morning flights the next day.
Always be prepared
Print your boarding pass before you arrive at the airport to make the journey smoother
If you checked in prior to arrival at the airport, make sure you received your boarding pass, either digital or printed. Also make sure you have your NHS Covid passport. Easy to miss with so much else.
Many airlines put a sticker on your passport or provide a label to show boarding gate staff that your Covid documents have been checked. If you are not checking baggage, ask the staff to check your documents before you go through security to avoid complications.
know your rights
If your flight is cancelled, like so many are by BA and easyJet, your airline has a duty to get you to your destination as quickly as possible – even on another airline. Otherwise you are entitled to a refund, voucher or change of departure date.
Get your money back
If your flight has been cancelled, you are entitled to compensation
Canceled flights mean compensation. For flights up to 1,500km this is £220; between 1,500km and 3,500km, £350; and £520 for longer. See BA’s Complaints and Claims page (ba.com) and easyJet’s Compensation Claim Form (easyjet.com). Note that airlines cannot use staffing shortages as “extraordinary circumstances” as a reason for refusing such payments.
Stick to plans
If you think you’d rather cancel your trip, don’t. Insurance companies evaluate this as a “refusal to travel” and do not pay.
Request ferry refunds
Queuing at Dover Ferry Terminal has lasted up to nine hours this week due to a shortage of vessels due to the P&O Ferries crisis. DFDS Ferries, which has carried P&O passengers under a reciprocal agreement, says it cannot take any more of them this weekend. Easter trips can also be cancelled. Such P&O ticket holders are entitled to refunds.
… and what we think
These problems could continue throughout the spring and summer. Keep calm, carry on and maybe be a little more patient than usual is what is required.